France mourns as massive manhunt closes in

Lori Hinnant
Associated Press

Paris — Police SWAT teams backed by helicopters tracked two heavily armed brothers with al-Qaida sympathies suspected in the newsroom massacre of a satirical French weekly that spoofed Islam, honing in Thursday on a region north of Paris as the nation mourned the dozen slain.

Authorities fear a second strike by the suspects, who U.S. counterterrorism officials said were both on the U.S. no-fly list, and distributed their portraits with the notice "armed and dangerous." More than 88,000 security forces were deployed on the streets of France.

They also extended France's maximum terror alert from Paris to the northern Picardie region, focusing on several towns that might be possible safe havens for the two suspects — Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34.

Both men were on the U.S. no-fly list, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said Thursday. Another U.S. official said the elder Kouachi had traveled to Yemen, although it was unclear whether he was there to work with extremist groups like al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based there. Witnesses said the attackers claimed allegiance to al-Qaida in Yemen during the bloody attack Wednesday.

A third suspect, Mourad Hamyd, 18, surrendered at a police station Wednesday evening after hearing his name linked to the attacks. His relationship to the Kouachi brothers was unclear.

The worst spasm of terror violence in more than a half-century stunned the nation. The lights of the Eiffel Tower went out Thursday night in a tribute to the dead from the elegant iron lady that symbolizes France to the world. At noon, the Paris Metro came to a standstill and a crowd fell silent near the Notre Dame Cathedral.

French President Francois Hollande — joined by residents, tourists and Muslim leaders — called for tolerance after the country's worst terrorist attack in decades.

"France has been struck directly in the heart of its capital, in a place where the spirit of liberty — and thus of resistance — breathed freely," Hollande said.

Nine people, members of the brothers' entourage, have been detained for questioning in several regions. In all, 90 people, many of them witnesses to the grisly assault on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, were questioned for information on the attackers, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a statement.

The minister confirmed reports the men were identified by an ID left in an abandoned getaway car, a slip that contrasted with the seeming professionalism of the attack.

Eight journalists, two police officers, a maintenance worker and a visitor were killed in the attack and 11 people were wounded, four of them critically. The publication had long drawn threats for its depictions of Islam, although it also satirized other religions and political figures.

Charlie Hebdo had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, and a caricature of Islamic State's leader was the last tweet sent out by the irreverent newspaper, minutes before the attack. Its feed has since gone silent.

Charlie Hebdo planned a special edition next week, housed in the offices of another paper.

"The paper will continue because they haven't won," Patrick Pelloux, a Charlie Hebdo columnist said tearfully to iTele TV.

Editor Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb, who was among those slain, "symbolized secularism … the combat against fundamentalism," his companion, Jeannette Bougrab, said on BFM-TV.

"He was ready to die for his ideas," she said.

Witnesses to the massacre have said the attackers claimed allegiance to al-Qaida in Yemen. On videos they were heard saying they were avenging the prophet, one witness, Cedric Le Bechec, wrote on Facebook that the attackers yelled, "Tell the media that it's al-Qaida in Yemen," as they were fleeing.

Jarring France further, two mosques in France were firebombed and a police officer killed in Montrouge, on the southern edge of Paris. Cazeneuve told reporters that "at this stage" there was no known link between the killing and Wednesday's attack on Charlie Hebdo.